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Knox, Sir Errol Galbraith (1889–1949)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Sir Errol Galbraith Knox (1889-1949), newspaperman, was born on 25 June 1889 at Glebe, Sydney, eighth child of Joseph Knox, a grocer from County Tyrone, Ireland, and his native-born wife Elizabeth Jane, née Drew.

Knox was educated at Fort Street Public School (where he was known as 'Knocker') and began an arts course at the University of Sydney, completing two years full-time study and a third year of evening classes. A clever debater, he seemed destined for a career in law. Instead, in 1910 he went into journalism. He worked as a sub-editor for the Sunday Times and in 1914 travelled to the United States of America and Canada for the paper. In July 1915 he enlisted as a private in the 12th Reinforcements for the 2nd Battalion, Australian Imperial Force; he was commissioned a second lieutenant in September and in January 1916 embarked for Egypt. In January 1917 he joined No.69 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, as recording officer and was promoted captain next year and major in late 1918. He served as air staff officer with the British Army of Occupation on the Rhine until July 1919. He was twice mentioned in dispatches and in June 1919 was appointed M.B.E. On 4 September at Thakeham, Sussex, he married with Roman Catholic rites Gertrude Mary Coore.

Knox returned to Sydney early in 1920 and joined Smith's Weekly before becoming news editor of the Daily Telegraph. In 1922 he was appointed managing editor of the Evening News. Within a year the paper had doubled its circulation and by 1928 Knox was dubbed 'one of the shrewdest newspaper administrators in Australia'.

In 1929 he became a director of the newly formed Associated Newspapers Ltd, but three years later he resigned when Sir Hugh Denison closed down the Evening News. For the next five years he pursued a variety of publishing interests. For a short time he edited To-Day, a monthly, and he also had a hand in the production of Newspaper News. He edited two editions of Who's Who in Australia — the 1933-34 volume and an enlarged version in 1935 — and produced and published three editions of the Medical Directory for Australia. Another project was the Australian Year Book, 1933-34.

In September 1937 Knox moved to Melbourne to be managing editor of the Argus & Australasian Ltd; he became managing director in 1940. It was hoped that his enterprise and energy would give the Argus a new lease of life. One of the first and most noticeable changes he made was to replace advertisements with news on the front page. Knox's influence was soon felt right through the organization. He knew each member of his staff personally and kept himself informed about the welfare of their families. Every aspect of newspaper production interested him and he was fascinated by machinery and technical innovation.

Even before the outbreak of World War II Knox was preoccupied with questions of Australian defence. In December 1942 he was appointed director-general of public relations with the temporary rank of brigadier, and in this capacity he visited New Guinea, Britain and the United States in May-November 1943. Ill health, however, forced him to retire from active service in January 1944.

Dynamic was the word most frequently used to describe Knox. A. R. Chisholm, who had known him from schooldays, remembered him as 'violently argumentative', clever, self-assertive but basically modest. 'No man had a greater inability to endure bad work patiently' but he never bore rancour. He loved poetry, especially Australian poetry which he could quote at length. He was interested in the development of a national opera and in March 1946 he was appointed as a trustee of the National Museum of Victoria. In Sydney he had been a director in 1925-30 of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital; in Melbourne he was a member of the board of advice of St Vincent's Hospital. Boating had been a favourite recreation in Sydney. He was a member of all Melbourne metropolitan racing clubs and was chairman of Hanging Rock Racing Club. At nearby Woodend he had bought a cattle and sheep stud-farm.

Knox was knighted in January 1949. Later that year the London Daily Mirror bought a controlling interest in the Argus. Still nominally managing director, Knox went overseas to look at a new colour printing plant for the paper but became critically ill. He was flown back to Melbourne where he died in hospital of coronary vascular disease on 17 October 1949, survived by his wife, two daughters and a son. After a service at St Patrick's Cathedral, he was buried in Woodend cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. R. Chisholm, Men Were My Milestones (Melb, 1958)
  • R. B. Walker, Yesterday's News (Syd, 1980)
  • Newspaper News, 1 June 1928
  • Bulletin, 8 Apr 1926
  • Argus (Melbourne), 9, 18 Oct 1949
  • Herald (Melbourne), 17, 19 Oct 1949
  • private information.

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Knox, Sir Errol Galbraith (1889–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/knox-sir-errol-galbraith-6991/text12111, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 24 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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